Briquettes are apparently a little better because t hey contain sawdust (which is good recycling of wood waste) but they can also contain other materials starch, limestone, sodium nitrate, borax, and coal dust which are not so healthy.
Health Concerns for Barbecue Enthusiasts Everyone knows that barbecues are bad for you; don't they? Actually, for a number of years lots of people have said that barbecues are bad for you, but that doesn't necessarily amount to the same thing. Buried among all the factoids and 'slow news day' media sensationalising there are a few genuine risks that should be taken into account. They don't mean that we shouldn't barbecue, but they do recommend a sensible precaution or two. Fuel Much of the ranting about fuel is reserved for charcoal and it's true that as a carbon-based fuel, lump charcoal and the briquettes do pollute the air. The carbon they give off when burned increases the greenhouse effect and the microscopic soot particles can worsen heart and lung conditions. In Canada, the government even requires bags of charcoal to carry a health warning. That said, if you can obtain charcoal for your charcoal BBQ, from sustainable sources, that is, woodlands and forest that are replanted as trees are felled, then you know that somewhere a new tree is absorbing the carbon that you've just released and the books are balanced: carbon neutral. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the charcoal sold in the UK is produced abroad in countries with no real approach to sustainability but British charcoal from green sources is available if you look for it. Briquettes are apparently a little better because they contain sawdust (which is good recycling of wood waste) but they can also contain other materials – starch, limestone, sodium nitrate, borax, and coal dust – which are not so healthy. Cooking Methods OK, the vegetarians have the last laugh here because all the health risks in the cooking are about meat. According to the Harvard Medical School, at high temperatures a chemical reaction occurs that creates heterocyclic amines (or HCAs) which are thought to be carcinogenic. Not only does this happen in the meat, but also any fat which has dripped onto the coals, burns and forms HCAs and the particles are carried on the smoke back up to your delicious burger – double whammy. The longer the meat is cooked, the more HCAs are formed (which presents you with a fine balance really: overcooking is carcinogenic, undercooking risks food poisoning; not a lot of room for error). Harvard suggests the following tips for safer barbecuing: Cook in smaller pieces, there's less cooking time and they require a lower temperature. So that's quarter- instead half-pounders, then. Use good quality, lean meat, less dripping fat means less flare-ups and therefore less smoke. Microwave meat for two minutes before placing on the grill to cause a potential reduction of HCAs of up to 90%. This will no doubt offend the barbeque purist, but why not try it once and see what difference it makes, if any. Turn the meat often; making sure that neither side becomes too hot. That one doesn't sound too bad, most barbecuers like moving the meat around. Food Poisoning There are two main hazards here, neither of which will greatly ruffle the feathers of the true BBQ enthusiast (very few people are attracted to barbecuing because they actually want E.coli). Cross-contamination should be avoided. This can happen when you've been handling raw meat and then go straight to the cooked meat without washing your hands. One of the benefits of cooking meat is that it kills the germs in the raw product. By not washing your hands, you're just reintroducing the germs. Cross-contamination can also occur if you use the same plates, utensils or surfaces (such as chopping boards) for both raw and cooked food. It's much easier and safer to have separate equipment for the two stages. Also, if you have marinated raw meat, don't then use the leftover marinade on the final, cooked product. The second issue is undercooking, easily done on BBQs if you're not careful. In a way, it's the same issue as cross-contamination, if the meat isn't cooked all the way through and the middle is still raw, then the germs are still there. In order to avoid, only cook over the coals when they are glowing hot and have that white, powdery look; always defrost fully any meat from the freezer before letting it anywhere near the grill; and turn the meat regularly to ensure that it's cooked evenly. The Food Standards Agency recommendation is that the meat is safe to serve and eat only when: it's hot all the way through (you could invest in a meat thermometer which would also help avoid overcooking); when there is no pink showing; when the juices run clear. Some allowances can be made for those that like their steak rare as long as the outside has been properly cooked, at least killing the bacteria on the outside of the meat. Sausages and burgers, however, because they are made from minced or processed meat have to be well-cooked to be safe. All in all, plenty of concerns but only a few reasonable safety precautions to take and you can continue to enjoy your barbecue in peace.
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